I Took a Disney Expedition Cruise to Antarctica With My Whole Family — and It Was the Best Trip We've Ever Taken

The Adventures by Disney Antarctica and Patagonia Expedition Cruise was the ultimate family vacation — here's why.

A family on a snowy glacier in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

Bright and early on the morning of our first full day in Antarctica, L’Austral’s Captain Fabien’s voice woke us up as it came over our stateroom’s speaker. If we looked outside right now, he said, we’d see a beautiful sea of icebergs floating in the golden sunlight. My sister and I jumped out of bed and stepped onto the freezing balcony, staring in awe as we sailed past giant, water-carved chunks of ice that dazzled in the light. In the distance, we heard a splash and spotted the fins and tails of humpback whales feeding just a short distance away.

At that moment, the journey down to Antarctica — long-haul flights and a two-day Drake Passage crossing included — was instantly worth it. Next door, my parents were also waking up to the sights of a new day in Antarctica. Over breakfast, my sister and I excitedly told them about the whales we saw from our room that morning. Already, it was one of the best, most memorable family trips we had ever taken — and there was still so much of Antarctica to see. 

View from a stateroom's balcony on board the Ponant L'Austral while docked in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

You might not immediately think "family vacation" when talking about a trip to Antarctica, but tour operators like Adventures by Disney are changing that. The company offers guided group trips — by bus, ship, and even private plane — to destinations across all seven continents, led by Disney Adventure Guides who embody the top-notch customer service Disney is known for. Last year, Adventures by Disney debuted its first-ever Antarctica expedition cruises for the austral summer season (December through March), providing a whole new way to experience the White Continent. My parents, sister, and I went on the Adventures by Disney Antarctica and Patagonia Expedition Cruise this January, and it was the family trip of a lifetime. 

Our adventure started when we flew to Buenos Aires and explored the beautiful Argentine capital for a day before joining our Adventures by Disney group to embark on the journey south. (Buenos Aires is well worth a trip on its own. While we did a quick tour independently, Adventures by Disney offers a four-day pre-expedition Buenos Aires Escape to get to know this South American city.)

After leaving Buenos Aires, we flew to Ushuaia on an Adventures by Disney charter plane filled solely with our fellow adventurers. Upon arrival, we went straight to Tierra del Fuego National Park, where we took the train to the End of the World before heading to the ship and settling into our staterooms on Ponant’s L’Austral, our home for the next 11 days. 

The exterior of the Ponant L'Austral ship docked in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

The next day started with a five-hour catamaran excursion through the Beagle Channel to look for wildlife. We lucked out and saw Magellanic penguins and a lone king penguin — two of six species we saw during our trip. Then, it was back to the ship in Ushuaia for a few hours before our sail away party — and the journey toward the infamous Drake Passage. After weeks of wondering whether we’d get a "Drake Lake" (calm waters) or the notorious "Drake Shake" (rough, seasickness-inducing waters known for their high wave swells), we found ourselves cruising through a Drake Passage that was somewhere in the middle — not too rough, but not super peaceful. On board L’Austral, we stayed busy during the crossing with plenty of Disney guide-led activities, including photo contests, naturalist talks, Marvel movies, and pajama parties.

After a speedy Drake Passage crossing, we reached Antarctica early, tacking on a half day to our scheduled four days on and around the continent. We first arrived at Port Foster in the caldera of Deception Island and geared up (in layers plus the parka and boots provided for us) for our first inflatable Zodiac boat ride into Antarctic waters.  After a short ride from the ship, we stepped onto a stunning black-sand, snow-covered island that remains an active volcano. With our ship naturalists and Adventure Guides leading the way, we explored this remote island in groups (with never more than 100 people ashore at any one time) before everyone was back on board for the evening. 

A family docked and on land in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

Each day in Antarctica followed the same routine: We’d wake up and open our blackout curtains to see what breathtaking scenery was outside. Then, we'd eat a quick breakfast in the casual buffet or sit down for a leisurely meal at the more sophisticated table-service restaurant. After eating, we'd embark on a morning excursion with our assigned group (guests are divided into four groups of 30 to 45, so there were never too many people off the ship at any given time). When it was another group’s turn for an excursion, we'd hang out on board, enjoying the ship’s amenities such as the pool, spa, and main lounge. All of the groups would be back on board in time for lunch before the ship relocated for an afternoon excursion.

A pair of penguins on rocks in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

At 6 p.m. every night, all of the guests would meet in the theater to hear from our naturalist team. They would talk about the wildlife, environment, and landscapes we experienced that day and tell us what was in store for tomorrow. Then, our Disney Adventure Guides would go over the entertainment schedule and any logistics for that evening and the following day. After the presentations, we went to dinner at either of the two restaurants and spent the rest of the evening at the Adventure Guide-organized activity (bingo, karaoke, and the "I Survived the Drake Passage" party were among the highlights). Alternatively, when we wanted a relaxing evening, we spent time at one of the lounges on board; the forward Observation Lounge on the sixth floor was our favorite spot for a nightly cocktail with Antarctic views. 

The most exciting part of any Antarctic cruise — and the main reason anyone would brave the Drake Passage — is the opportunity to explore a continent so few humans ever get to see firsthand. Our experiences ranged from thrilling Zodiac rides among icebergs and glaciers to wonderful wildlife encounters with whales and penguins to tours of historic buildings left from early Antarctic explorations.

A large group or waddle of penguins on land in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

On one particularly stunning blue-sky day, we visited penguin colonies, hiked up to overlooks with views of glaciers and snow-covered mountains, checked out historic Port Lockroy, and met the first all-female staff of the Antarctic post office. We even had time for a dip in the ship’s heated pool — surrounded by Antarctica’s pristine natural beauty — before getting ready for dinner. 

Lounge chairs on the pool deck on board the Ponant L'Austral while docked in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

On another scenic but cold and snowy day, we set off on a Zodiac cruise excursion. To be honest, we didn’t have the highest expectations; weather conditions prevented us from making a landing this time, so we would just cruise around the ship. We set off in our Zodiac to search for wildlife, and within minutes, humpback whales were swimming around our boat and several others. One whale swam straight toward our boat with his dorsal fin sticking out of the water, diving down right before it looked like he would hit us. Moments later, a minke whale passed a mere few feet in front of us, lifting its head and fins above the water in yet another close encounter. Our naturalist guide said he had never been so close to a whale.

Soon, our guide got a call from the ship asking those on the water to identify a single penguin that had been spotted on a nearby iceberg. When we got close enough to see it, we noticed it was a famed emperor penguin — a rare sight in this part of Antarctica. As we admired the solo penguin standing tall on a massive blue iceberg, we heard a thunder-like noise in the distance and watched as ice calved off a nearby glacier. We sat in excited shock at our trifecta of Antarctic experiences, covered in snow that had fallen during our short but thrilling excursion. As if the moment could get any better, our naturalist guide suggested my family make a little snowman on the front of the Zodiac using the fresh snow that gathered in the boat, and we did.

Guests on a zodiac boat sailing through Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

Antarctica is truly a once-in-a-lifetime destination. Most travelers won’t go more than once, so make that one time count. That starts with picking the operator that best fits your travel style and interests, and Disney’s Antarctica experience surprised us. This isn’t your typical Disney cruise. It’s not even on a Disney ship — the company works with luxury small-ship cruise line Ponant and uses their sophisticated expedition vessels for these Adventures by Disney sailings. You won’t find Mickey on board — except in the form of a freshly baked French pastry — but this experience is Disney in all the right ways. 

The Disney experience starts before the journey even begins with a pre-trip package delivered to our homes. Filled with fun items like Disney hats, luggage straps, water-resistant backpacks (a must for Antarctic expeditions), and specially designed Disney pins for each day of the trip, this package set the tone for the experience. During the trip, there are thoughtful touches, from stamped postcards to send from an Antarctica post office to a Champagne toast on our final Zodiac cruise; they truly thought of everything.

Of course, Adventures by Disney is family focused with typical Disney entertainment throughout the trip: Disney movies, Disney Cruise Line-style bingo, karaoke, and nighttime dance parties are all part of a schedule that’s fun for all ages. Our fellow cruisers included school-aged kids (note that Junior Adventurers have to be at least 10 to join this trip), young adults, retirees, and everyone in between. The Disney Adventure Guides made sure it was a fun, inclusive experience with something for everyone.

A family on board the Ponant L'Austral while docked in Antarctica

Elizabeth Rhodes

To those unfamiliar with Adventures by Disney, the fact that you can experience Antarctica — the most remote, extreme continent — with Disney might be surprising. Antarctica isn’t a typical family vacation — and that’s exactly why I’m so happy I went on an Adventures by Disney expedition with mine. It’s a life-changing destination packed with experiences that can’t be replicated and we’ll remember for years to come. We bonded over Drake Passage seasickness, hiked up frozen hills alongside penguins, basked in the midnight sun, and toasted our White Continent adventure with Champagne while floating beside a glacier. And honestly, it’s going to be tough for the next family trip we take to compete. 

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